A Camper’s Guide to Living in a Van by the Beach

Van life is becoming quite a trend, and with posts flooding my social media, I got curious. It would be awesome to live by the beach without worrying about beach living expenses and overstaying. To make this a reality, I did a thorough research on what supplies I should bring and if there’s any regulation I should know about before driving my way there.

What are the things you need to prepare for?Vicinity map to know of the area. Learn about the city or state rules and regulations about camping days,curfew hours and beach parking.Things you need to be aware of such as the effects of sand and seawater on my van,and camp smart must-haves like step rugs,mosquito repellants and foldable kayaks.

The #vanlife at the beach isn’t your normal beach getaway. There are so many things to consider, and you’ll know everything in this article. Expect to read about common rules and regulations with van camping at the beach, major things you should be aware of, how to camp smart, and the benefits of living in a van by the beach. 

Common State Rules and Regulations

Beaches are regulated by state rules therefore it’s important that you are aware of it. After going through several state pdf’s, and government websites, it seems like there’s a common thread when it comes to beach camping. 


Of course, if there’s one thing you need to check, it’s where to park. Most beaches, public or private ones, have designated areas campers can stay in such as van parking spaces and campgrounds.

If you do find a place that’s free to park, study the beach area first. It is illegal to park at non-parking areas and emergency access points, or else your van will be towed right before your very eyes. However, there are public beaches that allow you to park at the beachfront, but access to those beaches are very limited. 

Photo by Elizabeth aka @van_grrrl on her Instagram

For example, if you live in California or planning to go there, there are accessible campgrounds you can visit, but most would require an overnight fee, and a camping permit, At times, these campgrounds aren’t even near the beach.

However, to put a little bit of smile on your face, Emma Wood State Beach Campground in Ventura County allows you to set up your camper close to the ocean. The sad thing about it is it’s self-contained, meaning you need to have your own water and electricity if you wish to stay here for awhile. But then again, you’re at the beach, it’s the perfect time to live like the old times. 


Clean as you go. It is illegal and generally uncool to be a litterbug! You’re living next to the beach so you can enjoy nature, not destroy it. Not all beaches have a dump site, so you need to find a place where you can drive to throw your trash away. 

Few campers would go to the nearest town to do so, and I suggest you do the same. If you have a dog and they need to dump their load, do not bury it on the sand; scoop it up and put in a trash bag that you can throw later.


Some states do not allow unlicensed pets to be brought in beach sites, nor are they allowed to roam freely even with supervision. For example, according to the San Diego Municipal Code, dogs should be fastened and must be led by a chain or line no more than 8ft in length of suitable strength. 

General Information

Bonfire Legalities

Some states have laws with bonfire and should be done on designated areas such as fire pits or fire rings. For example, some beaches in California have regulations as to what time, when, and how many are allowed to do this. 

Before even thinking of making one, ask the beach management or any beach personnel if it is allowed, and if they do allow but there is no designated fire pit, please be responsible.

Peace and Quiet

Some beaches don’t allow overly loud devices. Most beaches have curfew hours, especially on private campgrounds, and do not permit campers from visiting other campers and/or playing any sound-making devices past 10 in the evening.To be safe, I suggest  confirming the acceptable noise level with the management during non-curfew hours.

5 Major Things You Need to be Aware of

Your van is your home, therefore you need to take very good care of it, and that includes the places you take it to. When going on a road trip, there isn’t much to think about, but when you actually live by the beach, the non-living things you don’t mind are the very things that could shift your happy adventure into a seaside mess. 

Distance of your van to the Beach 

Parking at beachfronts is nice until your vehicle gets soaked in beach water. Tides in the afternoon drastically change at night and in the morning, so keep a safe distance, at least 3-4 meters away. 

Consider checking the tide cycle and also the weather report because even if the beach doesn’t have tide cycles, rain can raise water levels, and the last thing you ever want is to wake up floating in the middle of the ocean.

Here’s one way to check even without any wind equipment for any weather changes. Although this is used for the SWOP program by the National Weather Service, it should be a good identifier for campers like us. According to NSSL, damaging winds are around 50-60mph. I suggest leaving the area the moment it reaches anywhere from 19-40mph. 

Staying at the beach in that kind of weather is unsafe, and sadly we don’t have Marvel heroes in real life to pull you out of the water if you do. 

Salt is your Worst Enemy 

I don’t want to get too sciency, but salt causes corrosion due to the presence of electrons. When your van is in contact with salt water and salt from condensed salt water, you’ll notice rusting on your van’s frame and underside. 

Sea water has 3.5% salinity (35 grams of salt), and salt speeds up the rusting process of any metal. Although short term stay in the beach won’t cause corrosions,but  long term will, so don’t take the risk and clean your van properly. 

After your trip, bring it to a car wash and have it washed thoroughly. You can clean it on your own, but if I were you, I’d go ask a professional to do the cleaning to ensure no salt is left behind, because when untreated, salt in your van will cost you more bucks than having it washed. 

Van, Car, Vehicle, Old, Rusty, Decay, Abandoned, Beach

Prepare for Penetrating Sand

Sand is everywhere, and no matter how hard you try to secure your van, there will be sand even in the weirdest places.This is because sand is so fine that air can carry it inside by passing through the hinges and gaps of your van’s door and windows. 

Another thing, if you have a shower/bathroom, do not think of washing off the sand in there, or it will clog the drain. Sand can also clog the air filter of your van which can cause internal damage, and that is why sanding off your vehicle is very important after any beach trip.

You can do it on your own, but again, I suggest asking for a professional’s help for thorough cleaning.

Heat and Humidity 

Your van can be a wonderful home and turn into a destetable oven in an instant. If you’re not prepared, you’d spend the next few days sulking at the beach, and that’s not the proper way of spending it.

When you’re at the beach, the sun is hot, and humidity is higher. You can’t always stay outside your van, because you’ll have to stay inside and rest. If you don’t have enough insulation, heat will definitely cook up the inside. Before going down to the beach, buy reflectix.

Reflectix is a silver bubble wrap that is used as an insulation. You can easily put this on over the windows, doors and vents to block the sun from heating the inside. I also suggest buying a dehumidifier to decrease moisture in the air by sucking the humid air from the room and removing the moisture from it. 

Prepare for Any Emergency 

You’ll never know what’s going to happen next unless you’re some sort of seer, so stay one step ahead by knowing the exit and detour points in case of emergency or traffic jams due to an unanticipated turnout of events or any weather phenomena.

 Always have a disaster supply and first aid kit, because beach lifeguards are only present during their shift, and it takes a while before any help arrives.

Next, always study the vicinity map of the area you’re visiting and check for the nearest facilities such as the hospital, police station, and coffee shop.

Laguna Beach Vicinity Map


The beach is a whole different world filled with wonderful creatures, and being stung by a jellyfish or stepping on a sea urchin is possible. These are stings that should not be taken lightly, and must be aided by a health professional. 

Police Stations

Regardless of where you’re camping, may it be the beachfront or designated park, you’ll be dealing with several people you do not know, so best be ready in case. 

Coffee Shop

If you’re boondocking, this is especially necessary, but this should be a good stop for accessing the online world and checking other beach areas you can visit. 

Camp Smart and Bring These

Space is everything, and you don’t want to buy several items that would cram your van for a temporary get-awayIt is important to know what you should bring without removing any of the fun. 

Beach Toys

Toys aren’t just for kids, adults have their own version of it too, and when you’re at the beach, the two most common activities any beach enthusiast would do are surfing and kayaking. Of course you want something that can be stashed away when you’re no longer at the beach, and here’s a few of them:

Collapsible Surfboard

This isn’t your regular surfboard; it can be folded thrice its size and is made with durable materials making it really cost-efficient. I suggest buying from Morphsurf because their surfboards are designed by surfers, industrial designers and engineers.

Inflatable Kayak

This is made of high-grade PVC, Hypalon or Nitrylon and is known for its stability and camping flexibility. I suggest buying an Intex Inflatable Kayak because it’s NMMA certified.

Foldable Kayak

It’s similar to the rigid kayak, but can be folded and made with displacement hulls for it to cut through water. I suggest buying an Oru Kayak because it has kayaks especially designed for specific water use. 

Quality of Life

Living in a van by the beach entails a whole different set of items, and these are some of the things you need to have for a carefree beach life:

Waterproof Beach Mat

Standard beachmats don’t repel water as good as waterproof beach mats. You won’t have to worry about soaking it when you’re fresh out of the water because it repels water so well, you can just wipe the water off.

Retractable Laundry Line

What’s good about this is when you’re done, you can just easily remove it and put it back. I suggest buying SecureLine because it comes with a mounting hardware which lessens the worries of finding a spot to attach it to. 

No See Ums Mesh

Mosquitoes and other bugs will be raiding your van at night, so you’d need a barrier to protect you from it. No See Ums are bugs you cannot see, and the best way of fighting them off is a no see ums screen. It is a micro-mesh netting that best provides insect protection that’s installed on windows and doors.

Benefits of living in your van while at the Beach

Picture this: you’re looking at the sunrise while sipping coffee and enjoying the wonderful sea breeze. That is one of the many benefits you experience for paying hundreds of dollars for your room rent and overnight stay. Although that is truly wonderful, it would be 10x better to spend less and experience most of the major benefits while enjoying the same great view. 

Lesser Cost for an Expensive View

Having to tour all the beaches in the city without worrying about room expenses and waking up to the sound of birds chirping and waves crashing is very much a millionaire’s life. In fact, renting a room in a beach resort usually starts at $150 a night, and imagine living there for a month!

 For room accommodations alone, you’ll be paying a whopping $4,500! Compared to living in a van, well, a thousand bucks would be more than sufficient if you’re being frugal. But, really, I’d rather spend $4,500 for something more important like food, van upgrades and other necessities, maybe even invest in a business suitable for my van life. 

Utter Relaxation

Peace and quiet without worrying about rent and other bills; even waking up to the sound of waves than the hustle bustle of the city is therapeutic. Living next to the beach gives you the utter relaxation you cannot experience in the city.

 Apart from that, you can enjoy unlimited sport activities such as surfing, kayaking and swimming. Come to think of it, you even have the leisure of just spending the day away with a cup of coffee and a good book.

Health Benefits

If you’re thinking that you’re a beach lover just because, then you’ll be surprised with what I’m about to tell you. Sea air is clean and fresher because it contains higher levels of oxygen that can improve sleep. This is why we want to visit the beach when we feel restless. That breath of fresh air aids in boosting our mental health, while the sound of waves and birds chirping relaxes our state of mind.

 Another thing, salt water is also very rich in minerals such as chloride, sodium, iodine and sulfur. These minerals are proven to have anti-inflammatory effects on skin, which is why seawater is proven to be nature’s skin treatment for sensitive eczema-prone skin.

Expectation Vs Reality

I could list several reasons why you have to spend time at the beach, but if there’s one major pro, THAT IS YOU’RE AT THE BEACH! FOR FREE! Really, there’s nothing to top that. However, just like any other road trips and getaways, there’s always a catch to something, and here’s a few of them:

Bath after Swimming 

What you’re probably expecting is taking a bath under a shower with fresh water freely flowing. 

Sorry to break it to you, but you’ll end up taking a bath with a bottle of water. That’s right, although some camper vans have enough space for a bath, most don’t, and when you decide to live next to the beach for free, don’t expect for amenities. It’ll be challenging at first, but you’ll get used to it.

 You’ll be susprised how resourceful you can get, and you might end up not consuming the entire bottle of water. Just in case you’re wondering, I’m talking about 2-3 Liters of water here, not a small one. I don’t think you can even wash yourself thoroughly with that. 

Sand is Everywhere

I may have mentioned this a few times, but again, SAND IS EVERYWHERE! You’ll end up seeing it on top of your pillow, your bed and even atop your cabinets! Surely there’s no sand tornado happening, but that’s because sand is so fine it can easily enter your van through the hinges and gaps from your windows and door. Prepare for an endless sand sweeping. 

Instagrammable Food

You may have seen a ton of van lifers posting their seafood buffet, or newly caught fish, a bowl of fruits, and a fresh coconut juice in hand. It looks really good on pictures, but you can’t afford going to beach restaurants all the time. 

Probably a few times, but more often than not, home-cooked meals will be your beach specialty. It’s okay though, drinking a cup of coffee with a toast in hand and watching the sun rise without worrying about room and food expenses is already a wonderful thing. 

Instagrammable Boho Outfits

Posing near your van with a boho look isn’t a default. When you live next to the beach for some time, you literally run out of outfits, and it’s a carefree beach getaway! It wouldn’t be realistic to always wear like you’re about to have a pictorial as a beach model.

 Most likely you’ll end up wearing easy and comfy clothes like oversized shirts, and for men, no shirt at all. Because, really, those worn outfits means another set of laundry to clean. 

Living Next to a Million Dollar view

It’s two good things into one, like a burger topped with a huge helping of cheese. Living next to the beach isn’t as easy as deciding to go there for a quick visit and leave. You need to consider the parking space and the legalities of staying there. 

There might be several things to look into, but it will all be worth it. The thought of waking up to a million dollar view is already a good motivation for spending a good 6 hours researching endless do’s and don’t’s. 

Nevertheless, you’re in luck because I just cut short your research time to less than an hour. Let me close my laptop now and enjoy the sea breeze while I eat my bowl of shrimp. My job here is done. 

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